May 23, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”


X-MEN:  DAYS OF FUTURE PAST:  Buy A Ticket – For Once, The Script Is As Mighty As the CG

After the money-making meatball that was Godzilla, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST serves welcome notice that a movie can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, be crammed with CG-generated spectacle, and still have room for an intelligent script and involving characters.  In fact, despite all the splashy mutant powers and all-powerful robots that populate Days of Future Past, the movie can fairly be said to be dominated by its screenplay and actors.  The last time that happened in the superhero genre, not so incidentally, was probably X-Men: First Class, a reminder that with the dismal exception of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men has always tried to be the thinking person’s comic book series.  In addition, Days of Future Past marks the return of Bryan Singer to the X-Men director’s chair he last occupied with 2003’s X2: X-Men United; Singer’s 2000 X-Men makes him as responsible as any one man for the entire Marvel universe of blockbusters, and after some bad career moves (Superman Returns, Valkyrie, Jack the Giant Killer) he’s back in his comfort zone, which is good news–his recent legal issues aside–for both the studio and audiences.

Simon Kinberg’s script (from a story by Kinberg and the team of Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman, who had co-written First Class, and based on a particular series of X-Men comic books by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) sets out a story more complicated to explain than to watch.  It starts in a dystopian near-future dominated by Sentinels, infinitely adaptable (and deliberately non-metal) robots that were originally invented to eliminate mutants, but which, in expanding their mission to execute humans sympathetic to mutants and even humans with a dormant mutant gene, have destroyed much of the world.  Since the Sentinels are geared to counteract any power a mutant may throw against it, the only way to stop them is to keep them from being invented in the first place 50 years earlier.  Luckily, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) can transport a person’s present consciousness to their past body–but the only person who can survive the wear and tear of a 50-year journey is the nearly indestructible Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).  So while Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Storm (Halle Berry) and a few other survivors hover, hoping Wolverine doesn’t wake from his trance before he’s successfully changed the past, and as the Sentinels approach, Wolverine goes back to 1973.

The bulk of Days of Future Past operates as a sequel to First Class, and although having a working knowledge of that movie as well as the first 2 X-Men features and X-Men Origins:  Wolverine isn’t essential to enjoy Days of Future Past, the more you know about the pasts and futures of its characters, the more resonance its events will have.  Essentially, in order to stop the Sentinels, Wolverine has to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering their inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), because it’s his murder that jump-starts the Sentinel program.  But in order to stop Mystique, Wolverine has to re-unite the Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) of the past.  Aside from their post-First Class emnity, this is complicated by the fact that the Professor has restored his ability to walk by way of a drug created by Beast (Nicholas Hoult) at the cost of his psychic powers, and that Magneto is being held–for the Kennedy assassination, no less–in a concrete cell hundreds of feet below the Pentagon.

All of that is merely the first half-hour or so of Days of Future Past, which has plenty of hairpin turns and complications ahead, as well as a show-stopping turn by Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who, in a scene the upcoming TV version of The Flash will watch with forlorn envy, helps get Magneto out of the Pentagon with not just super-power but super-style.  All along the way, the focus of Kinberg’s script remains as much on the moral and ethical dilemmas facing the mutants as on the splashy action sequences.  What is the responsibility of one species to another?  When is collateral damage acceptable?  One of Singer’s contributions to the comic book superhero genre has been attention to the pain of being an outcast, even one with super-powers, and the different reactions people have to being treated that way.  That theme re-emerges strongly in Days of Future Past.  Kinberg’s dialogue certainly has its on-the-nose expository moments, and sometimes character motivations remain ambiguous, but the script is by and large an admirable piece of work, exciting, popping with ideas, and often very funny.  It even manages to reboot the franchise in a promising way.

Of course, spectacle isn’t neglected.  First Class was a very good movie, but it suffered a bit from pacing problems, and Matthew Vaughn’s direction was uneven.  Singer is more expert in this world, and he brings off sequences like the escape from the Pentagon and a scene in which a football stadium is transported in full across the skies of Washington with panache.  Singer, along with Kinberg and editor John Ottman (the latter has worked with Singer on most of his features, and also composed the movie’s score) have done a superb job of keeping all the timeframes clear, even when action sequences are occurring simultaneously in the past and future.  (Your head will hurt, however, if you fixate too much on consistencies between all the X-Men chapters, especially since it seems like Last Stand has been all but banished from the canon, with only one plot event in that story briefly referred to in Days of Future Past.)

With the giant cast assembled here, some actors get more to do than others.  Jackman, McAvoy, Stewart, Fassbender and McKellan all make the most of their strong character lines, and not surprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence has more to do this time around than she did in First Class.  Peters gets a small but shiny role, and Hoult is used quite a bit.  Other X-Men stalwarts, though, range from turns that are limited (Halle Berry) to blink-and-you-miss-them (Anna Paquin’s Rogue).  It’s also a disappointment that with Peter Dinklage on hand as the main villain (and a great character name like Bolivar Trask), his character is never more than a plot necessity.  It probably goes without saying that all the technical credits are at the top of their form, not just the massive CG effects but the 1970s costumes (Louis Mingenbach) and production designs (John Myhre) that are convincing without going over the top.

Although we’re only a few weeks into the summer movie season, X-Men: Days of Future Past is likely to remain the class act of the blockbuster crop.  It’s a comic book movie that doesn’t make you check your intelligence at the multiplex door.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."